Rookie running back Vick Ballard has been a favorite of interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians ever since he first saw him take part in the Indianapolis Colts’ organized team activity workouts last spring.
At the time, Arians compared the former Mississippi State offensive back to a Colts franchise icon, Edgerrin James. The comment — primarily based on Ballard’s practice habits as well as his big play potential — raised more than a few eyebrows at the time.
But after his performance in Sunday’s 17-13 win over the Cleveland Browns, Ballard’s ability to turn nothing plays into positive gains was more in evidence. He ran for a game-high 84 yards in 20 carries — both career highs — as he made his second straight start.
Veteran Donald Brown continues to rehab from knee surgery, so the bulk of the Colts’ running attack is going to come from Ballard and second-year running back Delone Carter.
Perhaps the play that best embodied his running style, and potential, was a 26-yard run with 1:50 remaining in the game. Indianapolis was clinging to a 17-13 lead and was trying to run down the clock. Facing a second-and-13 at the Colts’ 36-yard line, Ballard took the handoff from rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and went off left tackle.
Initially, it appeared as if the play was going to be stacked up at the line of scrimmage. But Ballard made a cut back inside, found some running room and took the football down to the Cleveland 38-yard line before running out of bounds. The game was basically over at that point.
But as good, and as beneficial, as the run was, Arians saw one important — and correctable — flaw on the play.
“Yeah, stay in bounds. Great cut [but] he’s smacking himself in the head as soon as he went out of bounds,” he said later. “[Running backs coach] David [Walker] had already told [the running backs] to stay in bounds and run the five-minute offense. Another rookie mistake that he’ll learn from hopefully, and it didn’t cost us the game.”
Overall, though, Arians liked what he saw of Ballard’s first big game with Indianapolis.
“I saw the back that I thought I’d see,” he voiced. “Hard running. Pass protected well. He’s becoming a very solid player for us as all the rookies are right now. They’ve had a full college season [so far], so I don’t consider them rookies anymore. Unless you showed up two weeks ago, you’re not a young player for us.”
Fumble or no fumble? — With 7:45 left in the game, Cleveland right cornerback Sheldon Brown sacked Luck from the blind side and forced a fumble. Brown recovered the ball and the Browns gained possession of the football.
After looking at a replay of the fumble and recovery, it appeared as if the Indianapolis quarterback was already down. Game officials, however, disagreed.
When asked about the play later, Arians and Luck both said it was a fumble.
“They reviewed it and said it was a fumble,” the Colts assistant said.
Indianapolis’ rookie quarterback also conceded that he had lost the ball.
“I was yelling at the ref telling him I was down. [But] they made the right call,” Luck said. “Move on.”
The time out — Arians explained what happened when he called for a time out with just a few seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“Yeah, I was trying to get ahold of [the Colts special teams coach]. So I was trying to run down and catch him to call a timeout with four seconds [left] to make [the Browns] kick the ball and just block it and see what happened,” he said Sunday evening.
“And we, one, end up screwing our defense by having too many people out there and giving them the shot for the Hail Mary [on the final play of the first half]. That’s on me all the way.”
Injury list — The only Indianapolis player to leave Sunday’s game early was offensive tackle Winston Justice, who continues to have issues with an ankle sprain. It’s not known if he tweaked the same injury that forced him from last week’s game with the Jets.
Sitting out the Cleveland game as pregame inactives due to injuries were Brown, outside linebacker Robert Mathis (knee), defensive end Cory Redding (knee), defensive tackle Fili Moala (knee), nose tackle Martin Tevasue (ankle), offensive tackle Joe Reitz (knee) and cornerback Darius Butler (shoulder).
Arians said Monday that he is hopeful that Brown may be close to returning to practice. He hoped to get updated information on Mathis, Redding, Moala, Tevasue, Reitz, Butler and Justice sometime today.
Victory Monday — One leftover from the regimes of Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell is “Victory Monday,” which usually goes into effect the day after a Sunday win over the final three months of the season.
Under Dungy and Caldwell, however, the entire team was given Mondays off. Arians’ version allows players with three or more years of experience to take the day off unless they have medical issues to address with trainers.
Rookies, along with first- and second-year players, have to be at the team’s West 56th Street headquarters to meet with their respective position coaches in order to review game tape.